Herod visited Masada, a Hasmonean mountain stronghold situated near the Dead Sea, on at least two occasions before he began his remarkable career as king of the Jews. Popularly known today as Herod the Great, Herod eventually became connected with this site when he indelibly placed his architectural mark on its isolated rocky plateau. Standing at an elevation of about thirteen hundred feet above the level of the Dead Sea, the fortress, now called Horvot Mezada (Ruins of Masada), is extremely difficult to access because of its steep and sometimes vertical sides.
Herod’s first recorded visit to Masada occurred during a fratricidal war between two Hasmonean claimants to the Jewish throne, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. Herod was sent by the Jerusalem government in 42 b.c. to recapture the fortress from the rebels. The second visit occurred two years later in a completely different setting: with support from the Parthians, who were Rome’s chief rivals in the East and the successors to the Persian Empire in present-day Iran, Aristobulus’s son Antigonus sought to depose his uncle Hyrcanus and oust the Romans.